The New England Patriots have been all over the map in terms of productivity and offensive balance throughout the season. This has caused analysts from around the league to wonder which New England team we will see on a weekly basis a) the one with can dominate through the air and on the ground, as they were against Buffalo, or b) the one that tosses the rock nearly 60 times, as they did against the Seattle Seahawks.
Typically, the mythical aura around the team will prevent most from questioning the Patriots abilities, but after the apparent phasing of Wes Welker out of the offense earlier in the season, the injuries of their monster tight end duo, and the latest from Tom Brady, stating that the team may have “spoiled our fans,” doubters are starting to crawl out of the woodwork. However, the illusion of instability on the team is just that, an illusion. There is an easy explanation for their roller coaster performances over their first 7 games of the season,
|3rd Down %||0.51||0.41||0.1|
|Red Zone %||0.78||0.36||0.4|
First, we will simply take a look at a breakdown of their offensive performances in their four wins and three losses this season. The most striking difference are in the numbers of rushing and passing attempts.. In the three loss, the team actually average 84 more yards through the air than in Patriots wins. However, in New England’s four win, they ran for nearly 200 yards per game, a remarkable 113 yard difference in yards between the wins and losses. Another notable difference in the wins and losses was, clearly, the percentage off snaps dedicated to each dimension on offense. In the losses, the Tom Brady’s arm handled 61.5% of the snaps, throwing the ball, on average, 48 times per game. In the wins, the passing game only took 46.7% of the overall snaps, averaging more rushing attempts than passing attempts; the 50/50 balance that every coach in the NFL hopes and dreams for…
Looking at those numbers, it would seem logical that in order for the New England Patriots to win more games, they would simply need to convert some of Brady’s throws into hand-offs. However, that is not the only contributing factor to the Patriots success in their wins this season.
|Opposing D Ranking||Wins||Loss||Difference|
|Yards Per Carry||22nd||13th||9|
|3rd Down %||30th||14th||15|
The chart above shows the average rankings of the defenses that the Patriots have played against in their wins and in their losses. Instead of using the typical “overall defensive measure” used by the mainstream, NFL media, which is usually based purely off total yards allowed or total points allowed, Ramblin’ Fan has shown the rankings for every major defensive category.
The Patriots are displaying the ability to capitalize on a bad defense, pumping out the points and yards against some of the more defenseless teams in the league. Among the four teams that New England has beat, their defenses have ranked, on average, in the lower half of the league in 11 out of 11 major defensive categories. Worse, they have ranked in the bottom third of the league in 7 out of the 11 major categories, meaning that, on average, their are only 9 teams worse than them in any given category. In New England’s three losses, the opposing defense have ranked in the bottom half of the league in only 3 out of 11 categories, all three pertaining directly to yards allowed.
The most striking difference between the defenses in the wins and losses has clearly been the points allowed, specifically through the air, with a 21 spot difference in the ranking of the opposing defenses in terms of passing touchdowns. The underlying message here is that Tom Brady and the New England offense has been able to score on teams that give up a lot of points and cannot score against teams that do not… A perfect example of that is comparing the win against Buffalo to the loss against Arizona. The Patriots hung 52 points and 580 total yards on the Bills. However, the Buffalo Bills defense is ranked dead last in the league in 5 out of 11 major defensive categories: total yards allowed, rushing yards, yards per carry, rushing touchdowns, and 3rd down conversion percentage, while ranking 31st in total points and 27th in passing touchdowns. For this same reason the less-than-dynamic San Francisco 49ers offense dropped a franchise record 621 total yards on the Bills, including 310 passing yards for 3 touchdowns and 311 rushing yards for 3 touchdowns, on way to the 45-3 route just one week after the Patriots. However, the Cardinals’ defense ranks in the Top Ten in 7 out of the 11 major defensive categories: passing yards, passing touchdowns, total points, 3rd down conversion percentage, interceptions, sacks, and opposing quarterback rating. Tom Brady threw 46 times in that game, but the offense scored only one offensive touchdown, with the rest of the points coming from four Gostkowski field goals, on way to the 18-20 loss.
So, what does this mean for the Rams on Sunday in London? Well, here is at same chart with St. Louis’ defensive rankings,
|Opposing D Ranking||Wins||Loss||St. Louis Rams|
|Yards Per Carry||22nd||13th||13th|
|3rd Down %||30th||14th||13th|
To put it simply, the St. Louis Rams numbers are much more on par with the teams that the Patriots have lost to this season. In fact, they are nearly identical right down the board, ranking within even two spots or lower than those teams in 7 out of the 11 major categories: total yards allowed, passing yards, rushing yards, yards per carry, 3rd down conversion percentage, interceptions, and sacks.
The one area that might get New England optimistic is the Rams 22nd ranking in rushing touchdowns allowed, as the Patriots have averaged, at least, 2 rushing touchdowns in their wins, while scoring only 2 total rushing touchdowns in their three losses. However, while St. Louis has given up 6 rushing touchdowns this season, they have only allowed 1 rushing touchdown in the the last four games combined, and that was to Marshawn Lynch in the opening drive of Week 4. In that same four games stretch, teams have only scored 15 points per game, a number that is inflated by the Packers’ 30 point performance last week. Green Bay has hung those number on some of the top defenses in the league, including the Houston Texans, who are one of the front runners for a Super Bowl bid this season… the Patriots have not.
The Patriots are the Chris Johnson of the league, a team that can completely dominate when they are not challenged, but are get stalled and shut down when they are playing against a competent, complete defense. Not only that, but they have nothing to compensate for any lack of production, housing a defense that has allowed 2030 yards (31st), given up a 44.0 3rd down % (25th), allowed opposing signal callers to register a 99.2 quarterback rating (27th), and, most importantly, given up 163 points (22nd).